We are now well and truly into rugby silly season with new transfers being announced on a nearly daily basis. This year more than ever it appears players are on the move around clubs, particularly as the French Top 14 recently announced another increase in the wage cap once again increasing their already impressive spending power. Below we highlight some of the biggest names in rugby who are on the move;
Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues) – the Welsh and Lions loosehead is all set to to return to home club Cardiff Blues after a disappointing season with French Top 14 side Toulon. Although his time in the South of France may not have worked out quite as planned as Jenkins mostly played second fiddle to Andrew Sheridan, his return is a timely boost for the faltering Welsh region as they look to shore up their creaking scrum.
Zane Kirchner (Leinster) – with Isa Nacewa set to leave the Irish province at the end of the season for personal reasons, Springbok Kirchner makes an ideal replacement for the Kiwi and will help ensure the Dubliners don’t miss him too much next season.
George Ford (Bath) – the young Leicester fly-half is set to leave the Tigers after failing to oust Toby Flood from the 10 shirt. This looks an astute signing from Gold at Bath with the youngster well and truly on England’s radar, although he will have to oust the impressive Tom Heathcote from the 10 shirt which is no mean feat.
Jonathan Joseph (Bath) – another young English talent moving over to join the Bath revolution. Joseph joins an already potent mid-field combo of Kyle Eastmond and Matt Banahan and also looks set to be joined by the mercurial Gavin Henson. Joseph will add an extra spark to the Bath backline and could finally cement his place in the centres for England if his new team fulfil their obvious potential.
Matt Kvesic (Gloucester) – Gloucester bound Kvesic has had a massive season for Worcester despite their poor form and final position that has seen him earn a call-up to the England squad for this summers tour where he is likely to receive his first cap. If he maintains the form he has shown this season then he is sure to be a big part of an impressive young Gloucester team.
Alex Corbisiero (Northampton) – despite an injury ravaged couple of years, on his day Corbisiero is still one of the most destructive looseheads in the Northern hemisphere as demonstrated by his dismantling of the Irish scrum in last years Six Nations. Set to replace the outgoing Soane Tonga’uiha he quite literally has some huge boots to fill but if he can remain fit then he is a huge addition to an already impressive pack.
Kahn Fotuali’i (Northampton) – the Ospreys scrum-half is widely regarded as once of the best nine’s in world rugby on current form and could be set to help the Saints mount another challenge on the top of the table. His quick darting runs could help add an extra dimension to the Saints team as he should have a great platform to work off with Northampton’s dominant pack.
George North (Northampton) – despite some initial controversy over his move to England North looks a fantastic acquisition by Jim Mallinder. Despite having a mixed season his form has seen him called up to the Lions and help lead club team Scarlets into the Pro 12 playoffs. His powerful running style could see him become a huge force in the Premiership next season.
James Johnston (Saracens) – Kiwi Johnston has been a huge force for Harlequins during the last couple of seasons helping fire them to the championship last season. There still remain concerns over the number of penalties he gives away but if Mark McCall and his team can improve this aspect of his game then Saracens have two top-class tightheads in Johnston and Lion Matt Stevens.
Billy Vunipola (Saracens) – English qualified Billy has seen a magnificent season for Wasps capped off by a call-up to the England team for this summers tour of Argentina. The huge ball carrier is set to join his brother Mako at Saracens, the pair could become a devastating force in the loose for the club and help propel them to the top of the table once again next season.
Richie Gray (Castres) – despite an incredibly disappointing début season at Sale Sharks the giant Scottish locks form in previous seasons has seen him show enough to be called up to the Lions tour of Australia this summer and agree a contrast with Top 14 side Castres. The French sides big pack may help see him shine once again as he has failed to perform in Sale’s weak forwards.
Nicolas Mas (Montpellier) – although not the largest tighthead in world rugby, Mas is still one of the most destructive scrummagers in the world. An already impressive Montpellier pack will be greatly boosted by his presence and may help them go one step further in the Top 14 and Heineken Cup.
Jim Hamilton (Montpellier) – another top acquisition by the Top 14 side with Hamilton set to join fellow Scotland international Johnny Beattie on the South coast. Hamilton has had a strong season for club and country and will add a defensive steel and line-out option to the existing locks in a usually dominant Montpellier pack.
Soane Tonga’uiha & Brian Mujati (Racing) – the impressive Northampton Saints front-row are both set to cross the channel this year to join Paris based side Racing Metro. If they can both maintain their Saints form in the Top 14 they will give Racing the kind of front foot ball that will allow the sides impressive backline to exploit gaps in the oppositions defence. Their ball carrying in the loose will also be a major addition to the Parisians.
Dan Lydiate (Racing) – the 2012 Six Nations player of the tournament did enough last year to ensure that despite an injury-hit season he has still been called up by Warren Gatlend to tour Australia with the Lions. If Lydiate can get back to full fitness then he will be another huge addition for the Paris based club.
Jonny Sexton (Racing) – the Irish fly-half is set to become the top paid player in the Top 14 (and possibly world rugby) when he joins up with new team Racing after this years Lions tour. A fantastic front-foot ten, Sexton will add impetus to Racing’s attack and add an extra dimension to their game which they may have felt has been missing this season.
Jamie Roberts (Racing) – newly qualified doctor Jamie Roberts looks set to cap off an impressive year with a Lions tour before moving to France to join Racing Metro. The hard-hitting centre will be a huge ball carrier for the Paris based club and could take the Top 14 by storm if he can maintain the kind of form we all know he is capable of.
Morne Steyn (Stade Francais) – the big Springbok with an even bigger boot his set to join the Paris club and will give them extra strength in the fly-half berth. His game management and kicking ability will ensure Stade are playing in the right areas of the field and keep the score board ticking over which will be key to a challenge on the play-off spots with competition fiercer than ever before in France.
Digby Ioane (Stade Francais) – the Reds flyer was quickly snapped up by the Parisians once it became obvious he couldn’t reach an agreement with the ARU. On his day Ioane is nearly unplayable and will offer a nice contrast to the almost metronomic Steyn, his ability to play off the cuff could be key to unlocking tight defences in the winter months although his ability to adapt to such conditions could be an issue.
Bryan Habana (Toulon) – although Toulon are already packed to the rafters with star talent, there will always be room for one of the fastest men in world rugby. The Sprigbok is a fine addition to an already strong backline and could help add an extra try-scoring threat that has at times been missing from Laporte’s side this season.
Drew Mitchell (Toulon) – Aussie winger Mitchell will also be a great addition to the Toulon backline for next season although concerns must be raised over the ability of the Top 14 clubs to cram so many stars into a team without causing dressing room rows as some players are inevitably dropped or left out permanently.
Carling Isles & Martin Castrogiavani (Toulon) – although neither are officially confirmed both players have been strongly linked with the Top 14 side. Castro is an impressive scrummager and will do well wherever he goes. The speed and skill of Isles is undoubted and could be a huge factor for Toulon next season if he joins. Concerns must be raised however about his ability to adapt to the 15-a-side game and also whether his defence will hold up against some of the huge players in French rugby.
This is the kind of list that could go on for an eternity but these are the names that really stand-out. Whilst I’m sure some of the players listed here won’t live up to expectations whilst some not listed will surpass expectations it has been an exciting period of moves in the world of rugby and I’m sure there’s still more to come.
Who do you think will make the biggest impact for their new club next year?